Twenty years ago this year, President Clinton signed into law the landmark North American Free Trade Agreement. The primary objective of this treaty was to “eliminate barriers to trade in, and facilitate the cross-border movement of goods and services between the territories of the Parties.” In the case, the “parties “were Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
Although the treaty has been controversial at times, especially during election years, it is difficult to argue with its success. According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, between 1993 and 2013, U.S. trade with Canada increased 200% and Mexican trade increased by over 500%. Particularly important has been the steep growth in Mexican vehicle exports to the United States and Canada. The agreement has been important to Iowa as well. In 2013, Iowa merchandise exports to Canada totaled $4.4 billion, and to Mexico, $2.2 billion.
One of the major sticking points in this success story has involved the supply chain. Almost since its inception, the trucking provisions of NAFTA have been on hold. There have been numerous studies and endless legislative arguments about whether to allow Mexican motor carriers to make deliveries in the U.S. beyond a 25 mile border zone. Canadian trucks have been under no such restrictions, but perceptions and concerns about illegal immigrants, carbon footprints, safety, security, driver qualifications and drug traffic, in addition to strong lobbying efforts by the Teamsters and owner-operators have kept Mexican trucks off U.S. highways.
For twenty years there has been a constant turmoil surrounding these provisions. Several years ago the John Birch Society even weighed in, urging limitations on the trucking program. In doing so they stated, “The high influx in Mexican truckers crossing our borders has increased the insecurity of our country by allowing unregulated shipments to move freely on our highways.” The evidence for that opinion was somewhat vague, to say the least. The most appalling effort however, was by the Senate when they slipped an amendment to halt the program into an Iraq appropriations bill. Fortunately, that was vetoed by the president.
The most recent development was a three year pilot program that comes to an end this week. Under strict supervision, 14 Mexican carriers, inspected and monitored for the expressed concerns have been allowed to operate in the U.S. While the pilot appears to have been successful, the FMCSA has given no indication of what happens next.
I suspect the controversy will be rekindled. I agree that the safety and security of the country should be protected, but carriers operated by Mexico and Canada, both cooperative NAFTA partners, should be treated fairly and equitably as long as they meet the necessary criteria. This has been going on far too long and needs a permanent resolution.